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11 killed in Spanish forest fire

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A forest fire in Spain apparently sparked by a weekend barbecue has killed at least 11 firefighters, officials say.

The blaze was still out of control on Monday in a hilly area east of Madrid, forcing the evacuation of 400 villagers, a regional government spokeswoman told CNN.

The blaze has burned more than 8,000 hectares, or 19,700 acres, in Guadalajara province, just east of Madrid, said Environment Minister Cristina Narbona, in an interview with Radio SER, monitored by CNN.

Spain's state news agency EFE reported it was the deadliest forest fire, in terms of the death toll, in the past 13 years.

The 11 forest agents, under contract to battle forest fires, were led by Felix Mansilla, a Guadalajara provincial fire fighting coordinator. He was among the dead.

They were trapped by the fast-moving fire along with their vehicles, two water tanker trucks and a few all-terrain vehicles, the spokeswoman, Nuria Lozano, said.

A government spokesman told CNN late Sunday that three other people were feared dead, and Spanish news reports Monday said three people were missing.

But Lozano said Monday that authorities could be sure only of the 11 fatalities and could not confirm that anyone was missing.

The fire started Saturday afternoon in a wooded terrain that is part of the village of Riba de Saelices, about 130 km (80 miles) east of Madrid, when a weekend barbecue apparently got out of control, Lozano said.

The Civil Guard said that at least three people involved in the barbecue would give statements Monday afternoon, but the Spanish radio network SER later said as many as six people would give statements.

The bodies of the 11 firefighters were located near the remote village of Santa Maria del Espino, less than 10 km (6 miles) from the barbecue site, Lozano said. By early Monday, the bodies had not yet been recovered.

Another firefighter in the same group was seriously injured. He was hospitalized in Guadalajara city, the provincial capital, with first and second-degree burns, Lozano said.

By Monday morning, one of the fire's three fronts had been controlled but two remained out of control. A total of 152 firefighters were battling the blaze, backed by eight planes and two helicopters specialized in fighting fires, Lozano said.

The fire comes as Spain is suffering from one of its cyclical, severe droughts. Water conservation or restriction measures have been put in place across much of the country and reservoirs in some locations are at half-capacity.

Thousands of acres of forest and brush land already have burned in various fires in Spain in recent days, but no other deaths had been reported.

Weather reports for Guadalajara province on Monday predicted slightly lower temperatures than Sunday, which had temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), but another day of strong winds, that have proven difficult for the firefighters, and dry conditions.

Spain's deputy prime minister and a top regional government official were jeered Sunday night when they went to one of the villages affected by the fire, Alcolea del Pinar.

Some residents complained that authorities were slow to assign resources to the fire in the crucial hours after it started, and sent in major fire fighting teams only on Sunday, a day later.

By Monday, a crisis center had been established in Guadalajara city, the provincial capital, with representatives from the national, regional and local governments, Lozano said.

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